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Toronto man found not guilty in Twitter harassment trial widely viewed as a Canadian

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This first case in Canada may well set the trend for future litigation relating to harassment in social networking sites.

Toronto man found not guilty in Twitter harassment trial widely viewed as a Canadian first

Ashley Csanady
Friday, Jan. 22, 2016
Stephanie Guthrie, right, accused Gregory Allan Elliott, left, of harassing her primarily through Twitter. Matthew Sherwood for National Post; Peter J. Thompson/National Post

A Toronto man has been found not guilty of criminal harassment on Twitter — a case that was widely viewed as the first test of how Canadian courts would handle harassment on the social media website.
Gregory Alan Elliott was arrested in 2012 and charged with two counts of criminal harassment over his online interactions with two Toronto activists. Stephanie Guthrie and Heather Reilly had both blocked Elliott on the site — a move that prevents a user from viewing someone’s tweets when logged into the website — but they told police they felt he continued to track their movements and feared for their safety.
There was standing room only in the court Friday the judge announced the verdict. A group of supporters around Guthrie and Reilly heaved a few loud sighs of disappointment when judge said not guilty.
Throughout the trial, Elliott’s lawyer, Chris Murphy, argued Elliott was simply disagreeing with Guthrie and Reilly — both are advocates of women’s rights — and engaging in an ideological debate.

In 2012, after the charges were laid, Guthrie tweeted, “In anticipation of any ‘you just did this to prove a point’ criticisms, I did this (because) he was making me feel unsafe/miserable. Worth noting.”
The potentially precedent-setting case is believed to the first time a Canadian court has dealt with harassment on the social media network. Experts and civil rights lawyers said in the lead-up to Friday’s verdict that it was a major test of freedom of expression in Canada and the limits of free speech.
[h=4]Elliott was arrested in November 2012 after months of escalation in his online interactions with Guthrie and Reilly. The pair had blocked him in August, but the court heard he continued to mention them in other tweets or comment on events or subject matter they were discussing on the social network. His defence argued the pair continued to “taunt” Elliott even after blocking him, and they wouldn’t have done so if they were genuinely afraid of him.[/h]
The Criminal Code defines criminal harassment, in part, as engaging “in conduct… that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them.”
Criminal harassment carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

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